Eric Brandt is a teenager living with his parents in Germany during World War II. While he is still 15 years old, he is drafted into Hitler’s army. It is toward the end of the war, and so many soldiers in the German army have died that 15 and 16-year-olds are being forced to serve. After a very brief training, Eric and the other boys are thrown into battle on the Russian front. Things go badly, and the German army is forced to retreat. Eric is left stranded in a field overrun by the Russians.
In desperation, Eric, who is fluent in both German and Russian, takes the clothing of a dead Russian soldier and assumes his nationality. When he is taken to a hospital, he pretends to have amnesia and goes by the name “X”. The rest of the story is about the never-ending battle just to survive.
Although the book is fiction, it does draw upon the actual experiences of young soldiers in the war. The author does a great job of giving the reader an idea of what soldiers went through, many of them desperately wanting to NOT fight. The descriptions of the terror X feels are quite vivid. The farther away in time we get from World War II, the fewer survivors there are that remember the atrocities of those years. It is a valuable thing for all of us to understand how truly terrible war was – and is.
While this book is too graphic for elementary-age kids, it is an excellent book for teenagers and adults of all ages.